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Ariel Karabelnicoff, now Executive Director of Israel Bonds in Winnipeg
phoot by Rhonda spivak

Abed El Aziz Salha coming to from inside the police station with blood on his hands

The dead bodies of Vadim Nurgitz and Yosef Avrahami

Vadim Nurzhitz and Yosef Avrahami, of Blessed Memory


Rhonda Spivak November 4, 2011

The Gilad Shalit prisoner swap has hit home to Winnipeg's Ariel Karabelnicoff, since two Palestinians who lynched two IDF soldiers he was on duty with are being freed. On the fateful day of October 21, 2000, the two IDF soldiers were scheduled to meet up with him and others at his base, but made a wrong turn and ended up being lynched in Ramallah.

The horrible lynching of these two men, Vadim Nurzhitz and Yossi Avrahami, two non-combatant Israeli reservists (serving as Drivers) is not something that  Karabelnicoff usually talks about, although he was in fact one of the reservists who was asked to identified the badly mutilated bodies of Vadim and Yossi after their death.

As Karabelnicoff, who was thirty one years old at the time recalls, "We were in service near Beit El, a Jewish settlement near Ramallah in the territories and Vadim, Yossi and I trained together. We were drivers for regular combat soldiers and we conducted surveillance around the Jewish settlements."

"Two days before the lynching took place, we were training all day together. Vadim had just gotten married. I remember Vadim came with his private car and had just put in a new stereo—he drove me. We talked about how he was on reserves instead of being on his honeymoon.

"I remember that two days before the incident, the three of us were waiting to see the head of the base and talking to each other, while we were overlooking Ramallah. Yossi Avrahami looked out onto Ramallah and said, 'These guy [the Palestinians] if they could, they would kill us."

Karabelnicoff says that they were told by the base commanders that "we could go home for a day and then return the next day, where we would get our assignment for the next month."

"I remember that Vadmin and Yossi didn't have a clue where we were, as they had followed others to get to the base, and they were talking to each other about how they would get back the day later after the day off. So they coordinated with each other to come back to the base together. Vadim picked up Yossi and they came through Modiin to go towards Jerusalem. They were in uniform with weapons. They took a wrong turn at the Arab village of Bitunia and mistakenly passed the Israeli checkpoint and entered Ramallah. They reached a Palestinian Authority roadblock. What the Palestinian police should have done is say you can't come through here, you must go back and go to the north of Jerusaelm to the Hismeh checkpoint. But instead the Palestinian police detained the two, took their weapons and took them to the Ramallah police station."

Hearing rumours that undercover Israeli agents were in the police station in Ramallah, a crowd of more than 1,000 Palestinians gathered at the station, calling for their death. Within fifteen minutes, word that two soldiers were held in a Ramallah police station reached Israel. The Israeli Army decided against a rescue operation due to the fact that it would probably meet resistance from well-trained Palestinian Authority security forces.

Karabelnicoff's colleagues, Vadim and Yossi were beaten, stabbed, had their eyes gouged out and were disemboweled.

During the lynch, a Palestinian (later identified as Abed El Aziz Salha), became infamous following an image taken during the lynching, in which he waved his bloody hands outside the Ramallah police station in which the attack took place.

Salha arrived at the police station once he heard the soldiers were held there, entering the structure through the window. He then proceeded to go from room to room. He then saw Vadim Norzhich as he was lying on his stomach with a knife sticking out of his back, and 15 people kicking him.

Salha then proceeded to remove the knife from the IDF reservist's back, only to stab him another three times, at which time he proceeded to wave his bloodied hands outside the window.

Salha, who was 20 at the time of the lynch, was arrested in 2001 and was sentenced to life in prison.

The other lynch perpetrator that has been released is Rami Ibrahim, who was convicted of kicking one of the soldiers in the shoulder and of inciting others to enter the Ramallah police station.

 He was arrested in November of 2006 and sentenced to 40 years in prison. Ibrahim has only completed 10% of his prison term until now.

During the lynching, one of the soldier's bodies was then thrown out the window and stamped and beaten by the enraged mob. One of the bodies was set on fire. Soon after, the mob dragged the two mutilated bodies to Al-Manara Square in the city center of Ramallah as the crowd began a spontaneous victory celebration—which was seen on televisions around the world.

Karabelnicoff remembers that on that same fateful morning when Vadim and Yossi had driven togther accidentally taking the wrong turn, he had driven by himself back to the base through a different route –that was "a short cut through the West Bank that also went through Palestinian villages."

In hindsight he says "I was armed while I drove through the villages, but it was also dangerous."

Karabelnicoff, who in Winnipeg is the executive director of Israel Bonds, recalls that when he got to the base on that fateful day "Everyone was waiting for Vadim and Yossi. I took some equipment and it was getting late. No one knew what was going on. Then we heard the Palestinians had kidnapped two Israelis, but no one knew a thing.

"Suddenly, we saw the commando of the base. I saw a helicopter coming to the base, the helicopter landed, and they told me–come–you were in same unit and were training with them [Vadim and Yossi.] The commandos had gone to Ramallah and gotten their corpses and asked me if I could identify them. It was really hard to ID them [Vadim and Yossi.] They were disfigured. It was difficult. Two others also identified them. We were all like in a haze as if was not reality." [Editor's note: There are some gruesome photos of  the heads of the two corpses the way that Karibelnicoff would have seen them when he identified them that are on the internet. To see them click here and scroll down]

Still to this day, Karabelnicoff, says he has "a bad feeling" about it all.

"I heard them [Vadim and Yossi] talking that they would go back together. Instead of telling them to go on my route and we'd go one after another, I didn't say anything. I thought they would manage and they'd be fine. There was no reason to think otherwise. It's a bad feeling…Nobody at the time thought things could erupt this way. There was a peace process then. We [the IDF] were cooperating at the time with Palestinian police so no one foresaw this…No one warned us about anything like this. Nobody in the Israeli army was really recognizing that things were getting so bad..But it was not long after Ariel Sharon had gone to the Temple Mount...The intifada would escalate."

The release of Gilad Shalit is, of course something Karabelnicoff is pleased about--- but there is a big price, and Aziz Salha who is being freed today definitely had "blood on his hands"—literally, and will always be remembered that way.

Note: The Palestinian police officer who led the IDF soldiers to the police station, Ra'ad Sheikh, will not be released as part of the Shalit deal. Sheikh was convicted of hitting Vadim's head with an iron rod. Two of the three presiding judges sought the death penalty for Sheikh, but he was eventually sentenced to life in prison.

Below is a video of the Ramallah lynch that was broadcast at the time on Israel Channel 2 News.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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